Safari Friday searching the web for writers and readers GETTING FEEDBACK
A couple of years ago, a very talented student complained after class that it was hard to find anyone to give feedback on her writing. She wasn’t having a pop at me – my comments on her assignment were comprehensive – and I understood her anxiety to test her work before sending it off into the world.
What she didn’t grasp though was how time consuming it is to give thoughtful, considered reflection (and then put it into decent English with all the commas in the right place). It’s not something you can expect from literary agents who can’t take you on, editors who have decided, however reluctantly, that they aren’t going to publish your submission, or writers you’ve met at a book launch.
So who do you turn to? Family? Friends?
I only have a couple of rules for writers and this one is top of my list: don’t show your writing to anyone you love. Ok, you can modify if you like – don’t show it to them unless you give them a very clear message about the kind of feedback you want.
I’m thinking of something along the lines of:
This very important to me because I’ve been working on it for 10 and a half years when you thought I was watching Eastenders. I’m very pleased with it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Tell me what I want to hear.
I know that family and friends can be insightful critics and very supportive – there are a wealth of real life examples. Stephen King’s wife famously rescued the manuscript of Carrie from the dustbin when he was about to give up in disgust. He owes her big time for that and for every book since as I gather he shows the manuscript to her first. My rule exists not to protect the emerging writer but the loved one.
They tell you it is wonderful, exciting, unputdownable and you think what do they know… They say it was hugely enjoyable but they didn’t quite understand what was happening in chapter two and you think what do they know…
Just because relatives are close by and can read your writing doesn’t mean they should be the first readers, especially when you’re feeling uncertain and lacking in confidence. I would always recommend getting feedback from other writers, people who understand the challenges you are facing and the hard sweat that goes into creating anything.
But I know that’s not always possible and if you are as prolific as the student I mentioned earlier even when you are part of a writing group there isn’t always time to show everything you’ve produced. A number of websites have been set up the fill that feedback gap. One of the oldest is YouWriteOn. It was established in 2006 with Arts Council funding and now describe themselves as one of the UK’s leading independent review exchange sites. And you get something that most writing groups can’t offer – the chance for publishers to look at your work.
For some it has been a way of avoiding the slush pile (the name given to the sink tank of unsolicited manuscript that ever publishing house has festering in its basement). YouWriteOn members have won book deals with publishers such as Random House, Orion, Penguin, Harper Collins, and Little Brown. These include a six figure book deal for y Doug Jackson and his novel Caligula with Random House. Katherine Webb, became a Channel Four TV Book Club winner and Amazon top three bestseller after being discovered on YouWriteOn.com by Orion.
How it works: Membership is free. Once you sign up you can upload opening chapters or short stories and they are randomly assigned to another member to review. You are then given another member’s story to review – again, assigned to you at random. The more you review other people’s work the more your writing gets reviewed. After five reviews a story enters the chart system and the highest rated writers receive free feedback each month from editors for leading publishers Orion and Random House. You can revise and submit the same story again and again…
So, what’s not to like?
Well, their website is well overdue for a makeover. It shrieks rather than guides, but aside from aesthetics I think you have to have a thick skin to be part of this process. Some fellow reviewers may put you down simply because they don’t want your work to reach the top of the pile.
It’s not for everyone but it has worked for some. My advice is don’t go to YouWriteOn as a confidence-building experience; join up when you know your writing has strength (even if you still have a lot to learn), join up when you feel ready for an audience that doesn’t love you and has no reason to be nice, who don’t have to face you and don’t care how long it has taken you to get this far….Find out more here
Do you ask friends and family for feedback?
Would you put your writing on a website for others to review?
Safari = Swahili for long journey.I am on the look out for anything accessible from a keyboard that educates, entertains, intrigues, raises a smile. Anything that helps a reader get through the day or a writer the next draft. Let me know if you write a website that you’d like featured or discover something that really should be shared.